Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman replaces Ronen Manelis as IDF spokesperson
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Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman replaces Ronen Manelis as IDF spokesperson

Ceremony had been postponed due to fears of Hezbollah attack; previous candidate bowed out amid controversy over role in corruption probe

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Incoming IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman speaks at a ceremony in which he took over for outgoing spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis on September 15, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
Incoming IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman speaks at a ceremony in which he took over for outgoing spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis on September 15, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman took over as spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces on Sunday, replacing Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, who served in the position for over two years.

Zilberman was scheduled to succeed Manelis at the beginning of this month, but the promotion was postponed on August 31, over concerns of reprisal attacks by the Hezbollah terror group.

The ceremony was held in the army’s Aviv Base in northern Tel Aviv, which will soon house the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. It was presided over by the head of IDF Operations, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva.

Zilberman, who previously served in the IDF Planning Directorate, was tapped for the position of army spokesman in June, after the previous candidate for the position — Gil Messing — refused the nomination amid controversy over his previously unknown role assisting police in a corruption investigation against the Yisrael Beytenu party in 2015.

Beyond his youth and relative lack of military experience, Messing, who is close to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, was already a controversial choice for the position, as he has an indisputably political background, having worked as a spokesman for former foreign minister Tzipi Livni for several years. In general, the military looks to avoid even the appearance of partisanship.

Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, left, shakes hands with the head of IDF Operations Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva at a ceremony in which he took over as IDF spokesperson on September 15, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Zilberman, a career military officer, was a far more conventional choice for the position.

Messing was not a suspect in the Yisrael Beytenu corruption probe, nor was he accused of any wrongdoing. He said he worked on behalf of the police out of a sense of civic duty. The State’s Attorney’s Office said his assistance in the case “deserves appreciation.”

Yet, when the Haaretz newspaper broke the news of his previously unknown role in the graft probe, his already controversial appointment for the sensitive, high-profile position was quickly called into question.

On May 12, Messing sent a letter to Kohavi saying he no longer wanted to be considered for the position of spokesperson so that his personal history is “not used as a battering ram against the chief of staff or the IDF.”

Outgoing IDF spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis speaks at a ceremony in which he is succeeded by Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, center, on September 15, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

Manelis, who served as a close assistant to former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, took over as IDF spokesperson in May 2017.

His tenure was marked primarily by the weekly March of Return riots along the Gaza border, beginning in 2018, in which tens of thousands of Palestinians took part in weekly clashes with Israeli troops. Over 200 Palestinians were killed by IDF fire and thousands more were injured. The Israeli military faced significant international criticism for what was perceived throughout the world as excessive force against unarmed protesters. Manelis, who was tasked with presenting Israel’s viewpoint to the world, was criticized by Israeli politicians and commentators for failing to garner more international support for the IDF’s actions. Still, many officials backed the spokesman, seeing his efforts as successful as possible, given the complexities of the situation.

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